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Neonicotinoid insecticides are used in some pesticides to kill crop-harming insects. The use of most neonicotinoids was severely restricted in 2013 in the EU and UK due to their potential negative impact on bees and other pollinators. By 2020, all but one neonicotinoid was no longer approved for use. However, emergency authorisations are allowed, and in January 2022, the Government authorised an emergency application in England of the use of the Cruiser SB pesticide, which contains thiamethoxam, a neonicotinoid.

The Government stated that this was necessary to tackle the threat to sugar beet crops from the Yellows Virus, carried by aphids, and the lack of alternative insecticide options. The Government believes that the potential benefits of using the pesticide outweigh the risks to pollinators, particularly with the various limitations and controls attached to the authorisation. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) disagreed.

Industry groups have supported the decision to protect a high value crop – the sector lost over £65 million after a Yellows Virus outbreak in 2020. Environmental and wildlife organisations have been highly critical of the move, citing growing evidence of the potential harm it could cause.

The Government stated that by 2023, it is hoped that the sugar beet industry will no longer rely on neonicotinoids through the development of pest-resistant varieties and greater use of Integrated Pest Management, a key focus for future UK pesticides policy.

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